We’ve got three guys who live in the same building over a cafe: painter Jerry (Gene Kelly), pianist Adam (Oscar Levant of The Band Wagon and The Barkleys of Broadway) and semi-rich guy Henri (French singer Georges Guetary). Each has a backstory, love and career aspirations, but only one is Gene Kelly so we don’t spend much time with the other guys.
The ladies: Leslie Caron (whom I recently saw in Surreal Estate) has a killer introduction via musical dream sequence. After Gene acts stalkerish towards her (as we know from watching classic movies, this is the correct approach) she starts to fall in love with him, but whoops, she’s due to marry Henri who once saved her from nazis. Rich, overconfident Nina Foch picks up Gene as his sponsor, then starts to act possessive.
So Gene and his two women take up most of the plot, but surprisingly Oscar gets a long dream sequence of his own, where he plays a dramatic piano piece conducted and accompanied and viewed by other Oscar Levants (someone has been watching Keaton’s The Playhouse). At the end Gene finds out about the whole nazi thing and grudgingly lets his girl go, then proceeds to dream himself a massive, astounding ballet (IMDB confirms Gene was a big Red Shoes fan). Sometime during the ballet Leslie must’ve had a heart-to-heart with Henri, because he brings her back to Gene at the end, leaving one happy couple, two broken-hearted rich people, and one lonely, out-of-work Oscar Levant. Then one assumes Nina pulls her sponsorship so Gene never gets his art show, and the couple lives off Leslie’s perfume-counter pay in their tiny apartment.
Written by major songwriter Alan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady) and directed by Minnelli between The Pirate and The Band Wagon. The songs have a rocky start with the unintelligible By Strauss, then Gene’s got a great routine for I Got Rhythm but there are children interfering with the song. Finally Gene and George get in a nice version of ‘S Wonderful halfway through. Oh and Gene and Oscar sing one in the apartments where Gene dances in a doorway. But really it’s all about the three dream sequences.
J. McElhaney in Senses of Cinema:
Chris Marker has stated that when he, Alain Resnais and Ghislain Cloquet were in London in 1952 filming Les Statues meurent aussi they began every day by attending a 10am screening of An American in Paris. An American in Paris: a film which, apart from a few second-unit shots, recreates Paris entirely on Hollywood soundstages and the back lot; Les Statues meurent aussi: a documentary short on what happens to African art when it is exhibited in museums where it loses its relationship to the folk culture from which it sprang and as a result becomes lifeless, part of the “botany of death that we call culture.” In a larger sense, the short is also about the nature of art and what it (along with science and religion) means to us in our fight against death, becoming the “instrument of a desire to seize the world.” There are, of course, many ways for an artist to seize the world and consequently many ways for the artists we sometimes call filmmakers to do so as well, through the most rigorous of documentaries to the most stylised of musicals. Marker does not go into detail as to what it was he and his collaborators got out of this daily ritual of watching An American in Paris except to note the “lightness” that they felt watching the film. Consequently it may have been nothing more than a refuge from the seriousness of the work on their own obviously very serious film. But let us suppose for a moment that what these three French filmmakers saw in the faux French world of An American in Paris was a cinematic universe parallel rather than antithetical to their own, one equally possessed with a desire to seize the world and equally concerned with its own version of the “truth” but paradoxically articulating it within the realm of artifice. In the midst of a review of Francis Ford Coppola’s musical One from the Heart Serge Daney describes Coppola as working within the Minnellian idea “that a good illusionist does not ‘break’ the illusion, but constantly multiplies it, ad infinitum. The truth of a mask is not the face but an excess in the mask .. Two minuses make a plus. Two falsehoods make a truth”